What are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury?

Shoulder Anatomy

The shoulder joint is, for all intents and purposes, a ball and socket joint. The ball is the head of the humerus or upper arm bone, and the socket is the end part of the shoulder blade, called the glenoid.

The rotator cuff is a combination of four muscles which originate from the scapula (or shoulder blade) and insert on the humeral head. These four muscles help to rotate the shoulder internally and externally as well as lift the arm to the side and in front of your body.

How do rotator cuff injuries occur?

Injury to the rotator cuff can occur acutely by trauma, or over a long period of time by over use. Many rotator cuff injuries occur when one fall directly onto the shoulder, dislocates the shoulder, or tries to catch themselves as they fall. If you are over 40 years old the most common structure injured in the shoulder after a dislocation is the rotator cuff.

Rotator cuff injury symptoms

If you have a significant injury of the rotator cuff, it can sometimes manifest as weakness in the arm. You will have pain in the shoulder as well as inability to lift your arm over your head. With massive rotator cuff injuries some people describe an almost pseudo paralysis of the shoulder.

The main symptom of a rotator cuff injury is pain with overhead activities. Many patients complain of shoulder pain when they are putting thing away in high cabinets, or lifting their arms to fix their hair.

Location of the pain is also important in determining if you have a rotator cuff injury. Pain in the neck or in the shoulder blade is usually no related to a rotator cuff. Pain directly over the corner of your shoulder and in front and back is usually the location of pain in people who have a rotator cuff injury.

If you are concerned you have injured your rotator cuff you should seek advice from your fellowship trained sports medicine orthopedic surgeon.

Dr. Michael Gott is a Westchester orthopedic surgeon who is fellowship trained in sports medicine. He has also been an active member of the National Ski Patrol as well as a Member of the Windham Mountain Ski Patrol for 18 years.